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The Collaborative Edge: How A Tech SME Connects Councils

When we think of innovation, “digital” and “AI” invariably spring to mind, especially where a tech company such as Ayup Digital is involved. Yes, there are lots of features to our platform that are designed for a better user experience and easier access to relevant information, but this product started as a collaboration with one council and is now deployed across three other London Boroughs (with another on the way!) who work together on their goals and ideas. This is how collaboration between a council and SME, and subsequently additional councils, took the leading role in innovation.

Under pressure: Kingston Borough Council’s motivation for change

In 2018 Kingston Borough Council chose Ayup Digital to work with them on creating a solution to the huge demand for services they were facing. Extensive research had shown that people were falling through the gaps because they didn’t know where to find support information. At that time, Kingston had a proliferation of directories that quickly became outdated and cumbersome due to their sheer number and the lack of resources for timely updates by their respective service owners.

They wanted a platform that would facilitate social prescribing, linking residents to small community groups and large council services, while unifying disparate service databases and websites inclusively. On top of that, the platform needed to be adaptable by integrating with other tools and services.

Collaborating on a new Open Source platform

Having recently joined the Local Digital Declaration Kingston wanted to ensure their project followed its principles and the Government Service Standard. They decided that they wanted to develop the code under an open-source licence, funding a project that other councils could ultimately benefit from.

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At Ayup Digital, we worked closely with Kingston’s Public Health, Digital, and IT teams, as well as Kingston Voluntary Action. Together, we engaged various stakeholders during a detailed discovery phase, followed by a collaborative design and development phase based on real user needs.

This collaborative effort resulted in Connected Kingston, a crucial part of the borough’s social prescribing and early signposting services. The code was released under an AGPLv3 licence, allowing other local authorities and similar organisations to reuse it, leveraging Kingston’s investment.

The beginnings of a new community

The project achieved success, and neighbouring boroughs took notice of the project’s success, eager to tackle similar challenges. Hounslow Council and Sutton Council recognised the platform’s potential for their own projects, which focused on connecting people to local services and activities to enhance their overall well-being, including their health. To tailor the platform to their needs, they enlisted Ayup Digital for further discovery and co-design work, resulting in the creation of Sutton Information Hub and Hounslow Connect, using Kingston’s open-source code as a foundation.

We consolidated all features and developments into one code base for easier deployment across other local authorities, creating Ayup Connect. Staying true to the original principles, we continue to release the latest versions as open source, allowing other councils to utilise the platform in the future.

A future product shaped through collaboration

We facilitate regular community meet-ups with all our local authority partners, discussing future features and the development priority of each based on their collective feedback.

This constant collaboration has allowed the platform to evolve into not only something that can represent a community asset within a particular locale, but which now represents a shared asset in which all our local authority clients have an invested interest and ownership.

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Among this Ayup Digital community, there is a collective drive towards common goals; reducing demand for services, improving access to quality information, and ultimately supporting residents by allowing them to take ownership of their health and wellbeing.

One local authority might fund a new feature that is of particular interest, allocating their allotted development time to this, and the rest of our council partners then get to see the benefits of this new feature in the next round of updates.

It’s a reciprocal collaboration that doesn’t just allow the product to evolve technically, but gives councils who are near one another and who face the same challenges the space to share ideas and innovate. This culminates in a shared product roadmap that everyone has had their say and input in, ensuring that the platform continues to serve local authorities in the best way possible.

A blueprint for collaboration between councils and SMEs

Our journey with Kingston, Hounslow, and Sutton shows the power of collaboration in driving innovation. As we welcome new councils to the fold, we bring in new ideas that everyone can learn and benefit from. Councils have always shared best practices with one another, and by bringing SMEs with strong ethics and values such as ourselves into the mix, they’re in a better position to act on those ideas and tap into outside expertise and capacity.

Source: techuk

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